The words “Retail is Detail” are often used to describe the business of selling to consumers on the high street. A small fraction of the considerations include competitive pricing, point of sale material, staff scheduling and training, payment systems, store layout, driving footfall and window displays.

In the online world computers replace humans for almost every aspect of customer interaction and the phrase “Retail is Detail” has never been more aptly applied. Computers are complex and have a habit of doing dumb things. They seem really fast at times, but slow down for inexplicable reasons. Ultimately they just do what humans tell them.

Answering the following 5 questions, grounding the answers with reference to long established high street retailing, serves as a reminder of the factors that form the foundations of a high performance website.

Why do you need a website?

High street shops are almost always there to sell goods and/or services to generate profit. In the online world such simple objectives can be lost in a world of perceived complexity. Consider the following business types.

Local restaurant websites rank among the most focused I experience. The single purpose of the website is to get the user to the restaurant… when it’s open. If the restaurant does take away, getting an order placed and delivered is also a clear purpose. Success can be measured based on the number of orders gained directly or indirectly via the website.

Media companies may need a website to earn advertising revenue, or sign people up to a paid version of their online content. The content they publish supports this, but isn’t the primary purpose of the website.

Raising awareness is important to charities who measure success by engagement. Donations or volunteers signing up are good success measures.

Depending on whether the housing market is limited by supply or demand an estate agent’s website will be all about driving sellers/landlords to use their services or enquiries from prospective purchasers/tenants. There is nothing wrong with changing the website objective every few years as long as it is considered upfront.

A consumer goods (FMCG) company’s website is about raising awareness of the brand and simply complements other channels persuading the consumer to select one brand over a competitors when faced with a choice.

Tip: Define a very clear objective for the web site that is easy to measure and communicate in a single sentence. All other key performance indicators become secondary and all decisions should be referenced back to this single objective.

Who will own the website?

High street stores are owned by the Retail Director. Single shops by the proprietor. This governance model is proven and works.

Websites often have many “owners”. At best these owners operate as a committee, at worst they fight, delaying decisions. Websites governed by such committees are easy to spot by the presence of a carousel on their home page. The carousel is an easy way for each area to have some prominent presence negating a hard decision.

A website with a single person accountable for performance with the skill and experience needed to assess complex decisions and enforce them is essential.

Tip: Make sure you know who the single accountable website owner is. If they’re not present or competent consider a change of role!

What technology to use?

With some very rare exceptions most shops have roughly the same design. Doors, big window displays, tills, shelves of goods, security gates, stock rooms and signage directing to different product categories. Consumers are familiar with the layout and generally find what they want quickly, especially so on repeat visits. Well trained staff are available to help with queries.

Starting with a common website layout supported by an established Content Management Systems (CMS), and if appropriate eCommerce platform, can save a lot of time and money. Engaging an expert to assist in narrowing the most appropriate technology is money well spent. Factors such as licence fees, average day rates of professionals skilled in the platform, the gap between your requirements and the starting point provided and features to improve productivity and ROI need to be considered carefully.

Shops will be sized to support an expected foot fall based on location, local demographic and other factors. They are not easy to make bigger or smaller at a moment’s notice! Hosting the website on an elastic or flexible cloud platform which can support more concurrent visitors as demand grows provides a future proof option. After years of hype such cloud based solutions are finally ready for serious business deployment.

Where a decision to use an established team has not already been taken select the technology first.

Tip: After you have signed the lease on a high street store it’s not easy to change locations. Technology is the same. Its very time consuming and costly to change platforms. Spend time and money making the right decision for your purposes and stick with it.

Who’s going to build it?

You would not dream of employing a shop fitter that was really good at constructing flat pack furniture, but knows nothing about lighting, signage, carpeting or carpentry. All these skills and more are needed to produce a high quality finish.

Digital professionals are increasingly specialising in narrow and confusing disciplines such as front end programmer, designer, user experience consultant, back end programmer, CSS coder, etc, etc. Ensuring the individual or team engaged have a full understanding of all the technology and design factors is important.

Those in design related roles are often the best presenters and can unduly influence the decisions the team make. The more technology focused people who have a big impact on the overall success of the project can be overlooked. Having a Project Manager who can balance the arguments and facilitate decisions based on the business purpose of the website ensures the team stay focused.

Digital agencies can provide all these services but come at a price. One man bands or small agencies need to have more experience across all the disciplines.

Tip: Make sure the team knows all the technologies involved, not just one part, and that there’s a leader who can facilitate rational decisions referencing the business goals of the website.

How to generate footfall?

Newspaper adverts, leaflets, local radio, billboards and national advertising all raise awareness of a shop, or chain of shops, and the offers they have available. Many shops are known to the local community and generate repeat business, growing or shrinking through word of mouth. When it comes to visitors the online world is like the high street, just on steroids.

Social media provides a marketing route similar to word of mouth. However you can monitor and influence the conversation. If your business is sufficiently large, having one or more people dedicated to social media can drive traffic and enables influence. It should never be an afterthought and never outsourced to people who don’t live the DNA of your business.

Paid for advertising is a sure fire way to generate traffic. Unlike the real world, its performance can be monitored and experiments tried frequently. However driving visitors to the website, only to disappoint them is costly. Footfall without a good experience and offers never generates profit.

SEO records all the information about the goods and services available in your shop, all the people that ever said anything nice (or bad) about you, and makes the information available so that a consumer can immediately teleport into your shop hopefully finding what they want quickly. Such powerful magic is hard to control, but when mastered becomes exponentially powerful. Everyone who successfully comes to your website acts as an indicator to others to follow. SEO should be baked in at the beginning and become the shared responsibility of everyone who works with the website. Beware the SEO magician who promises the world for a few bucks.

In a world where everything can be measured experimenting with small and subtle changes is normal. Having both the technology and the people to perform such changes is essential. Understanding how visitor behaviour varies by the size of the screen they’re using, geography, or where they came from before visiting your site provides invaluable insight informing decisions.

Tip: Create the ability to try small changes quickly treating social media and SEO as core competencies.

This article scratches the surface of the considerations business owners should consider when changing their website. For those that are deeply familiar with the digital world, its served as a reminder that some of the challenges faced every day have been around for a long time and simple solutions may be just a short shopping trip away.


By James Rosewell, Founder and CEO of 51Degrees

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